Bamboo

LUCI WELDON/The Warren Record

Robert Steverson, OnlyMoso consultant and East Coast territory manager, holds a specimen of Moso bamboo harvested in Aiken, S.C. 

Warrenton resident Robert Steverson, an OnlyMoso consultant and East Coast territory manager, remains optimistic that the production of bamboo in Warren County will expand.

In 2017, Warren County native Steverson began traveling the region as a representative of the OnlyMoso company, which was founded in Italy with its U.S. headquarters in Florida. The company contracts with farmers for growing moso, a giant bamboo used in furniture, flooring, clothing, and as a staple of Asian cuisine.

OnlyMoso grows bamboo plans from seeds in greenhouses. When the young spouts reach the seedling stage, they are shipped for planting. Harvesting can begin three years after seedlings are planted in the field. Plants are considered to be fully developed at seven years of age. Plants will yield harvests of shoots and stalks for about 80 years.

Steverson said that OnlyMoso purchases the harvested bamboo from farmers for uses that range from construction materials to energy drinks.

Since 2017, a number of Warren County residents expressed interest in growing bamboo, but, Steverson said, the only current contract in the county is for five acres. He added, however, that the landowner wants to expand the acreage in the future.

Steverson hopes that the success of bamboo crops in other areas of the Southeast will inspire Warren County residents to give it a try.

Bamboo planted in Florida in 2017 yielded the first harvest in the United States last month, he said, adding that farms in other areas of the Southeast that planted seedlings in 2017 also are reporting harvests of bamboo shoots weighing two pounds each. The shoots were sold to New York retailers in the first week that the city reopened after being closed for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Steverson said that OnlyMoso farms in other states are at various stages of production at this time. In Georgia, a farm established a little more than a year ago has four acres planted in bamboo.

Bamboo in North and South Carolina was ready for harvest in April; however, the novel coronavirus put a halt to any harvest plans. Those farmers will have to wait until next year to harvest bamboo shoots. 

Steverson said that a number of North Carolina farmers are growing another edible variety of bamboo with shoots that are harvested by the Hmong people in the United States to be shipped to Asian restaurants in Chicago, Ill., New York, Minneapolis, Minn., and California. He said that the Hmong people are interested in producing OnlyMoso.

Steverson said that he now advises growers in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, and he is excited about the potential of bamboo, which he said has grown into a $68 billion industry worldwide.

One of the North Carolina farmers is Kyle Smith of Harrells, located near Clinton. After talking with Steverson in 2018, Smith planted two acres of OnlyMoso bamboo in 2019.

Smith, who farms with his father and brother, raises traditional row crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat and Bermuda hay, along with turkeys, hogs and cattle. He wanted to start out small with bamboo in order to become more accustomed with growing it.

“The plants are a yard old and are looking well,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to the first harvest.”

He hopes to expand to 10 acres of bamboo if the first harvest is successful, and would like to become an OnlyMoso consultant.

Steverson will continue to talk with farmers in Warren County and other areas to increase interest in raising bamboo. In a recent week, he participated in three bamboo plantings via videoconference in Alabama and Georgia. 

However, planting bamboo is not a quick process.

“There is no mechanized way of planting bamboo,” Steverson said.

He estimates that five people can plant an acre of bamboo in one day, and that a single person can plant about 50 seedlings in a day.

While interest in raising bamboo as a crop grows in Warren County, Steverson said that OnlyMoso is interested in identifying and purchasing bamboo of any variety that is growing on area land. For more information, go to the OnlyMoso-operated website, bymybamboo.com. 

For more information about selling bamboo or raising OnlyMoso bamboo, contact Steverson by calling 1-336-707-9322.